Housing Crisis in Tasmania

I thank the member for Franklin for bringing forward this important motion. My old man always used to tell me when I was a kid, ‘When you grow up, buy a house.’ It was a message he repeated time after time after time. It wasn’t about getting rich; it was about his worry about retiring poor, that buying a house gives you that certainty that when you retire you can afford to live a good and decent life. He wasn’t unique. Mums and dads have told their kids that right around the country for generations. Wanting to own your own place is part of what we call the great Australian dream.

But, for a lot of people in Australia, it’s becoming harder and harder. Back in the eighties, when I was at high school, the cost of the average house was three or four times average income. Now, in places like Sydney for example, it can be as high as twelve times average income. What that has meant is that more and more people are losing hope in that great Australian dream, or opting out of the system. The percentage of Aussies today who own their own home, or own a mortgage for that home, is at its lowest level since Robert Menzies was Prime Minister back in the 1960s. In particular, amongst young people—people in their 20s and 30s—the number who are buying their own home has just gone off a cliff.

For people who have a mortgage, who have made the choice to buy a home, it’s tough as well. The RBA put out a report recently that showed that the number of people in Australia that are behind in their mortgage today is at its greatest level since the global financial crisis. If you’re renting it’s not much better either. The latest data shows that almost half of all Australians on low incomes that rent are in rental stress: in other words, more than 30 per cent of their income goes just to pay the rent. Then there’s the sharpest and most difficult challenge of all. That’s people who can’t afford to get a mortgage, can’t afford to rent and don’t have a roof over their head. There are more people homeless today in Australia than ever before.

It’s fair to say this is a crisis. It’s a crisis right across the country. There are not many issues that are more important than this. There are not many places in Australia where this challenge is bigger or more acute than Tasmania. It might surprise people that are watching this debate or listening to it, but it is Tasmania where this challenge is most ferocious. There has been a population boom in Tasmania over the last few years, as well as more tourists coming to town and more students coming to study. Airbnb has created its own challenges, particularly in Hobart. Off the back of that you have seen housing prices go up rapidly, the cost of rent go up and the number of people that are homeless go through the roof. In some parts of Hobart at the moment you have house prices that have gone up by 75 per cent in the last few years. Rental affordability in Hobart is worse than Sydney. Think about that. As a Sydneysider I find that hard to believe, but it’s true. The housing affordability index that came out last year showed that Tassie is the worst state in Australia for housing stress. Why? Rents have gone up dramatically. The cost of rent in places like Hobart is almost as expensive as Sydney or Melbourne. But average incomes are much, much lower. It also means, as a result, that you have more people on the street or sleeping in cars. I heard a story when I was down in Tasmania recently about people having to put their kids in the car and sleep on the outskirts of town. They have got a job but they can’t find affordable accommodation. It was a story told to me by Hobart City Mission and Shelter Tasmania. There is a big jump in the number of people in that situation. In fact, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of people that have been knocking on the door of crisis accommodation over the last few years. There’s just not enough crisis accommodation to meet that need.

The state government really hasn’t done enough. They built about 300 affordable accommodation houses in the last five years. The last state Labor government built 2,000. So that is 300 under the Libs in the last five years and 2,000 here. There is an opportunity for the federal government to do something. Jacqui Lambie has said she’s got a deal with the government. Mathias Cormann has said he will deliver on that deal in the next six to eight weeks. We call on the government to make good on that. If you don’t, the Tasmanian people will be very angry that they have been dudded by this government.